Learn from TED: 4 presentation pitfalls

Speeches don’t have to be boring. Avoid these common presentation killers to move and inspire audiences.

There’s nothing more powerful than a TED talk. Fair or not, your next fireside chat, keynote, analyst presentation or even team meeting will be compared to TED and alternatives like Big Think and The Moth.

Here are four common mistakes that keep presentations from reaching TED-worthy heights, along with several easy tricks for taking your stagecraft to the next level:

1. Using your slide deck as a crutch. “Presenters often use slides as cue cards, which is why most decks include too many bullets,” says Douglass Hatcher. Hatcher is president of communicate4IMPACT, a storytelling training firm, and former vice president of executive communications at Mastercard.

Many of the best TED talks eschew slides for that very reason. “Slides should be seen as props, not the main attraction,” Hatcher says. “They should complement your presentation.”

That’s why he advises including only one idea per slide. “This will stop you from simply reading from your slides,” he says. “It will also force you to use more compelling images instead of relying solely on text.”

Register for PR Daily’s August 17 “Storytelling and TED Secrets” webinar for more presentation tips from Douglass Hatcher, president of communicate4IMPACT and former vice president of executive communications at Mastercard.

2. Choosing illustrations instead of photos. How do you ensure your images are compelling enough to hold an audience’s attention? “Start by keeping it simple,” says Hatcher. “Think about the single point you want to convey on a slide and conduct an image search for that concept only.”

He recommends searching for images on Unsplash.com, Pixabay.com and Pexels.com. “They’re free. Attribution isn’t required, but is encouraged and appreciated.” he says.

Though popular, illustrations and icons lower audience engagement. “Photos generally have greater impact because they’re realistic,” Hatcher says. “Illustrations are stylistic and subject to interpretation. They just don’t ground your concept as well.”

Too many charts and graphs can also reduce audience engagement, he warns. If you use a chart or a graph, make sure it tells a story.

3. Emphasizing presentation over performance. “A performance is about your audience and a presentation is about your content,” Hatcher says. “If you want your audience to pay attention, you have to put them first.”

An easy way to do this is to simply use the word “you” more frequently.

“Just search your script and replace ‘I’ with ‘you’ wherever possible,” says Hatcher. “This will help re-orient your thinking and give you more of a window into your audience when writing, rehearsing and delivering your material.”

4. Not using analogies. When Steve Jobs first introduced the original iPod in 2001, he said it was like having 1,000 songs in your pocket.

This became more than just a slogan,” says Hatcher. “It became a turning point because he found a simple way to relate a complicated concept to an image we could understand. That’s the huge power of analogies, metaphors and similes.”

How do you create a strong analogy?

“It starts with asking yourself what your product or idea is like,” says Hatcher, “but that’s not enough. Push it further and ask yourself what the experience behind your product or idea is like. Jobs didn’t create his best analogies around features or benefits—he focused on the user experience.”

Brian Pittman is a Ragan Communications consultant and webinar manager for PR Daily’s PR University. Douglass Hatcher, president of communicate4IMPACT and former vice president of executive communications at Mastercard, will reveal more presentation techniques in PR University’s Aug. 17 webinar, “Storytelling and TED secrets: Deliver presentations that convince and convert.”

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